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It’s easy to see why they call Milwaukee a festival city, since there always seem to be at least one and sometimes three or four festivals going on there.

In just two days in July, I attended North America’s largest German festival, plus the Brady Street Festival and Brewfest. With free craft beers available for sampling at numerous stalls, the entry lines stretched over a mile long to attend that one. Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, takes over the Henry Maier Festival Park every June, ramping up the noise level for miles around with 11 stages of non-stop country, pop, rock and R&B music.

Other summer festivals include Polish Fest, Lakefront Festival of Art and Cedarburg Strawberry Festival in June; Bastille Days, Milwaukee IndyFest, Festa Italiana, and the Air & Water Show in July; and the Wisconsin State Fair, Arab World Fest, Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta in August.Milwaukee Summerfest crowd

Even without festivals, Milwaukee is filled with fun things to do and see.  A stroll down the three-mile long RiverWalk displays 20 sculptures, while the Lynden Sculpture Garden shows off over 50 sculptures on 40 acres of parkland.  The Milwaukee Art Museum, with its stunning architecture and views of the lake complemented by an extensive art collection, will reopen sometime this fall.

Our group of travel writers toured the opulent Pfister Hotel’s art collection with artist-in-residence Todd Mrozinski.  We learned that 60 local galleries participate in a free-admission Gallery Night and Day held quarterly in the Historic Third Ward and downtown areas.

Chef David at BraiseThe culinary scene is also thriving in Milwaukee, with artists like award-winning Chef Dave Swanson in charge at Braise, a community-supported restaurant and cooking school.

Bringing locally grown meats and produce straight to the table, everything you sample at Braise is guaranteed to be fresh.

Some of our group enjoyed learning how to make pasta.  This is a time-consuming process so it’s doubtful I’ll try it at home.

Braise for pasta making lesson with Chef David and fellow chef John Wroblesky

Afterwards, lunch at Braise featured our just-made pasta in a delicious dish of Herb Pistou.

Another favorite Milwaukee restaurant was the Mason Street Grill with the Pfister Hotel.  This upscale establishment makes fine dining into an art as arresting as the paintings exhibited in their galleries.

Touring a microbrewery showed us some of the finer points of beer-making, which has come a long way since the original beer barons like Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz built their huge empires.  At Lakefront Brewery we were entranced by the antics of a manic guide, who could easily work as a stand-up comic if he tires of drinking beer all day.  Maybe he just seemed so hilarious because we were encouraged to sample various beer and ale products along with him.

As a reminder that Milwaukee is known for brewing beverages other than beer, we toured Colectivo Coffee Roasters.  This community-minded company was created by Lincoln Fowler and his associates in the 1990’s. Lincoln Fowler at Colectivo

Colectivo now has 12 cafes and a bakery in Milwaukee, plus 3 cafes in Madison.  The cafes are popular hangouts for locals, with family members from very young children to grandparents gathering together on the patio the morning we visited.  Besides the cafes, their coffee is distributed to numerous other cities and available online.

We also toured their offshoot Troubadour Bakery, where I fell in love with a Cowboy Cookie. Wish I had brought a case of them back with me!

A stop at the bustling Public Market, where every kind of seasonal produce, seafood, deli sandwiches or salads, local breads, cheese and sausage, and exotic goods imported from abroad are displayed in the huge, crowded, two-story market space.

Milwaukee trip new friendsIt was hard to decide what to buy in only an hour, but everything I tried was so good this place went on my “stay-a-little-longer” list for a return trip.

A unique wine bar called the Ruby Tap was our final stop for a nightcap.  Over 70 wines are available by the bottle, but the more adventurous will try one of the 32+ varieties dispensed by wine machines that measure pours sized from “tasting” to full size.